One of the elements I like about this is the blatant ‘we will cater to whatever whim you have’ when it comes to programming & worship in the church. Now, providing some services for people is fine, but often times they are provided under the ‘keeping up with the Jones’s’ motivation versus an actual mission of the church. When church is, essentially, a place of transactional goods and services then it is an option for me to choose from (like any other business). When church is a community and place of transformation then it is harder to call it an option versus an integral part of ones life.
Was reading this article earlier today about a 142 year old United Methodist Church that is dying a typical slow death in the UMC. Nothing really out of the ordinary with a UMC falling in membership. We’ve had these before, one such instance I could find with a quick search. What was most interesting to me with this article was the responses of ‘why’ this is happening and their total blindness to their own control over it.
The size of the congregation whittles down each year as older members pass away and younger generations choose to attend what Strauch refers to as mega churches. Main Street United claims just 35 members and averages between 15 to 20 for its services.
The future of the church is in peril, considering the average age of the congregation is 82 and the youngest families in the church are in their 60s.
“A lot of it has been due to deceased members,” says Robert Hunt, who is nearing his 15th year as the church pastor. “We’ve had a lot of walk-in traffic from the neighborhood, but they don’t stay.”
First off if you want to be a church that is growing you need to stop worrying about, and playing the victim of, the mega-church. Faith population wise the mega-church only covers a small percentage of people. If trends pan out there will be continued movement back towards a close, relational, faith community by generations to come. The mega-church will continue to be around, but this relationship will be a both/and not an either/or.
If you are a church that has ‘a lot of walk-in traffic from the neighborhood’ (which is awesome) but they do not stay then you need to be asking yourself as a congregation, “WHY?” Why are they not staying? Reading on we might have some idea.
The Indiana Conference of The United Methodist Church owns Main Street United, and Hunt says conference officials advised him and the trustees to merge with another or modernize by putting in a projection screen and musical instruments for worship.
The congregation opposes installing new technology and prefers praise and worship as traditional as the three-floor structure the church operates out of on the corner of East Main Street and Pershing Drive in the Emily Kimbrough Historic District.
What does this tell whomever visits? This congregation is just fine dying. They do not care to revive the health of their church. To anyone who visits, they will sense this. No, projection and contemporary music are not the cure-alls for a dying church. Changing the culture of the church, which changing up worship and technologies is a step, gives people something to look forward to in the future.
What I found crazy with this church historically was this nugget in describing the church architecture (which sounds pretty impressive in places).
There is a wood accordion door that cuts the sanctuary ground floor down in size by about a third. Strauch says an orchestra played there in the days when hundreds attended services.
Pretty sure the insertion of an orchestra was a pretty contemporary thing do some 100-80 years ago. It’s in this church’s DNA to be innovative in worship, but they’ve totally stalled at one point in this aging congregations life as ‘the sweet spot’ and they are happy to take their ship/church down with them.
This ends how we all know it will. They know it as well.
For Strauch and the rest of the shrinking but unwavering congregation, the idea of shutting the doors on the church is incomprehensible. The Main Street United members have no intention of being another statistic.
“Most of us will hold out because we don’t want to go to the big churches,” Strauch says. “There’s some people that want us to close it down, but we’re going to keep it open.”
These doors will close and it is a shame. This church could have had a lasting life if the people who claim to love it would actually live into the culture the church had when they probably started going to it.
Ever have that fear that if something happened to the church, or the church office you’d be in a world of hurt? UMCom released my March MyCom article on church online security. In there I pull together best practices, suggested websites/software, and other pitfalls of technology in the church office to avoid. It’s a bit lengthy, but it is worth your time to read if you are in the business of church.
Backup data. Breyer asks, “If the church burns down, which happens more often than we’d like to think, what happens to your data?” In many cases, both the data and backups are housed only within the church premises. These solutions can provide more secure data backup.
- CrashPlan Pro backs up data in the cloud. At a cost of about $10 per computer, it is an affordable solution for churches working off one local server.
- DropBox is a great solution for smaller churches with less data. DropBox offers two gigabytes of free storage and boosts your free storage when you refer new users. Larger pro accounts cost $10 per month.
- Check out “Avoid computer nightmares with free and paid backup solutions” for more options.
Here are the slides to a presentation that I did today at this “Generation 2 Generation” conversation with the General Board of Discipleship and the Texas based conferences of the United Methodist Church. Below is an unedited article I wrote as part of the collection of talks. I went a little off script for the talk as you can probably tell.
Technology and the Church: How do we connect with Jesus?
by Gavin Richardson
Talking technology and the church these days can be a tricky as politics in the church. Similar words mean very different things to a host of different people. I am going to focus this article on “tools” of technology. There will be some naming of specific technology tools, but it should be minimal as even by the time of the printing of this article something is probably out of date and far from the cultures everyday consciousness.
Being considered by many as an “early adopter” and keeping company with some innovative tech types on a regular basis I get a lot of tool chatter. At the writing of this article I am receiving some 50 Google+ invites to ‘circles’ each day this week. When you read this that news will either be a big deal or no deal at all, thus is the life of a social media technology tool these days.
Our church leadership many times will many times get pre-occupied with the tools of technology or refuse them altogether. Why not have a pre-occupation, they are tangible in many ways, something of substance to talk about. The tools are the things that the cultural media likes to churn up. Hey, you can talk to us at….. (or actually talk to an intern) because we really want to know what you are thinking. We feel we have to own the latest tool in order to be relevant to a “they” that we have no clue who “they” really are. I hear pastors express in a manner of seeking forgiveness “I’m not on the Twitter yet.” As if I am some papal associate who needs to grant forgiveness for this awful sin. The tools are the micro things that need to be implemented in order to be relevant. However, we often never actually reflect on what the tool actually does for and to community.
Truth in the tools is this. We have people who love to embrace the new tool because that is important to them and those who wish to hold onto traditional tools of the past because that to is important to them. I say neither is bad, just different and if we come to understand some of those differences then we’ll be able to navigate the implementation of any new tool that comes along the way.
I am a terrible gardener. Horrible. Really really bad. Nothing lives in my gardens of any real beauty for any significant length of time except for some weed that might flower. My arsenal of gardening weapons is many and they cover a wide array of technological eras. I have a fancy spade that has indentations for measuring how deep a hole is (I really like that) as well there is the plain old boring nothing spade. In my arsenal of gardening tech is a plain old lumber saw. I never saw fit to buy a tree saw, that is until I needed to trim a tree. Too late at that point, right? One thing our house seems to have plenty of, bush trimmers. We have some extended handle manual trimmers, old classical manual wood handle trimmers and the fancy electrical trimmer. Call me crazy, but I use all three to try and tame the bushes of our home. The long handled manual trimmer can get into those far reaching spaces and up on top of a bush that I let get too tall (remember, I am horrible gardener). The electrical trimmer can speed its way through two or three bushes in the time it might take me to do one manually. Inevitably I notice that too much was cut off a bush and it looks more funny than normal, so I have keep trimming till it gets it just alright. Generally that takes a bit more time. Those old classical wooden handle ones are cool for me. I feel as if I am actually doing some work with them. The blisters from chopping away after awhile because I forgot where the gardening gloves were feel really good. The reverberations that move back up my body when I hit a branch that doesn’t want to be cut with my first powerful scissor strike. The wooden handle trimmer forces me to be a bit more choosy with my work and it takes more effort and time, but in the end I am generally pretty pleased. I am actually pleased with any of my work because they all helped me to try and create a little beauty in my otherwise messed up garden.
I get the poor results when I try to take my electrical trimmer and rub it onto the bush without plugging it into it’s power source. That takes forever, but it does cut eventually. Likewise, the other trimmers don’t do much unless I manually open them up and shut them. My neighbors would look at me funny for brushing over the bushes with a trimmer as if it were an electrical one.
Maybe you see where my silly analogy here.
When we think of the tools that come along with how we want to engage and move into this technological era we need to not just equip ourselves with one trimmer, but with a few different trimmers. When it comes to doing a full regiment of tending to the garden, we also need to have more than just trimmers. We cannot rely exclusively on one tool alone. So expand your technology toolbox. In the same mindset, we have to use these tools with their proper design. Marshall McLuhan has been quoted as saying that we ‘often move the content of the old technology as the content of the new’ and that is disingenuous to the new technologies. Translation, using our primary communication tool, the bulletin, and re-posting all that content and only that content onto a Twitter is a poor use of the tool and not plugged into the true power of that tool.
The greatest technological invention for the church, and for our most of our global culture, is the printing press. We have with the advent of the Gutenburg printing press started a protestant revolution, printed bibles for the masses, put together books, spread the news of the church in newspapers, created leaflets, printed out those wonderful Wesley sermon books and even the hymnals. Our church culture is totally shaped by the printed word, more so than many of us might be able to imagine because it is so evasive. It is no wonder that we have a hard time leaving behind our ways of gardening for some 500 years. But, the expansive development and adoption of new technology tools is changing that landscape and as a church we need to figure out how to garden in new ways. I heard a quote the other day saying that ‘people are not afraid of change, they are afraid of loss’ and that is so very true. I adopted a friends quotable of “To achieve something good you have to trade in a good.” Again two true nuggets that can be carried into these conversations. We want to shift our churches into a place of faithfulness and implement some good things. However, we acknowledge that we are trading something very good in order to make this change. Our people are not so much afraid of change, but of the loss of the good they affirm. You don’t get much flack when you start a contemporary service with all the projection and rock band as long as you don’t do it the same time as the good traditional service and infringe on the good looking sanctuary.
The video image is our game changer for today. It will never take the place of print or push it so far from existence that we forget about the days of print, but it is changing and making its own cultural impact on us and thus the church (I am the church and you are the church, we are the church together, right?). Our learning is not just a linear fashion of left to right and streamed thoughts. They function more in images and parsing stories together. This is not some younger generational thing, ask your congregation members what type of tv they watch and how much of it they watch. You might be getting some surprising results. Older generations are watching more and more television from the tv medium. It might be a “news” show, which according to Neil Postman is all about entertainment even if it is called news, that is on for hours all day. Maybe it is silly reality television dramas. Teenagers and Young Adults are tuned into streaming television and short videos on YouTube. Recently Netflix was cited in research as occupying 25% of the internet bandwidth every single day, increasing in the evening hours. The Khan Academy started using short YouTube videos to teach students, many of whom have issues with traditional learning environments, high end mathematical equations that are able to be processed and repeated in the classroom environments. TEDtalks have taken a regular conference setting and made it a global movement of sharing ideas, art, design, and creative solutions to world issues. We have re-shaped our learning and digestion of information in forms of video available to us today.
The computer, in many ways is just a tool used to create the print or video mediums. That is starting to change as it becomes more and more a tool for relationships. The cell phones, make the information of websites, the social media platforms and burst information mobile so that anyone can be within connection and thus a relationship. Some tools will rise up and be noted for years to come as the culture shaper of a new era. But I am not so brilliant to name that right now. I can dream up some ideas as you can as well. With today and tomorrow we will need to figure out how we make these things as part of our gardening tools. For now, you and I both need some old school and innovative gardening tools. Might not need every innovative tool as it will just prove to be a gimmic. We might need to find again some old tools as there is still good value to what they bring to the garden.
So, what are the tools for tending to your garden?
A number of years ago when the Episcopal church has elected Bishop Gene Robinson and had gone through the turmoil of theological, ethical, and cultural debates of gay clergy and affirming those positions there were many from the Episcopal church. Not just because of that reason, there were a few localized reasons, my friend Thomas left his position within the Episcopal church and started an Anglican church under the direction of a Rwandan Bishop and the Anglican Mission in America. So essentially he started a new church a few miles from his prior church and was ordained as a missionary to America.
Yes, this is a very short history to some really complex decisions and people. But this is a blog posting, not a book.
With that short history in mind, I am curious to see if something similar would be at play within the United Methodist Church as they approach General Conference 2012 and American United Methodist Pastors have become more vocal in their intentions and support of a full inclusion into the church.
Africa is our fastest (and maybe only) growing region of the church and they are extremely influenced by a conservative methodist framework. Again, more sweeping generalizations.
five former United Methodist Church pastors who recently hogged the limelight when they resigned from their church at the same time, will today launch their church, the Methodist Revival Church (MRF) at Harare Gardens today.
Former UMC pastor and MRF leader Philip Mupindu, will be the main speaker at the event that is expected to run from 8am to 2pm. MRF marketing officer Francis Chitambira said various gospel musicians including Agatha Murudzwa were lined up for the event.
Also expected to perform at the event are various choral groups including Methodist groups Marimba aJehovha Gospel Singers and Nyevero Dzedenga. “Many people from various parts of the country confirmed they will attend,” Chitambira said.
“We also invited members of other churches, including our former church’s bishop (Eben Nhiwatiwa) and pastors. although I am not sure whether the bishop will be able to accommodate our event in his schedule, some pastors confirmed.”
Chitambira said the aim of the launch was to explain the new church, its origins and mission, which will serve as apostles seek to bring more people to God through working with other churches to spread the word. The new church maintains the red colour being used by UMC, but dropped the colour blue for green.
“The red on our church logo symbolises the Holy Ghost fire coming from heaven towards the church and also the blood of Jesus who died for all humankind,” Chitambira said. “Green symbolises life. We also have the Bible, showing that we are bound by the word of God, which is a living word.”
The new church will also use hymns, from both the UMC and the Methodist in Zimbabwe, together with other praise and worship songs. Although UMC and the Mupindu group maintained that the UMC as a church did not split, but that just five people withdrew their services from the church, the fact that some congregants left the UMC to fellowship with them means there was a split.
Call me alarmist if you like. History does repeat itself and I am sure that this idea could be a real possibility at play if/when all things go crazy in the United Methodist Church.
I find myself driving around my neighborhoods and the nashville area eyeing properties that are vacant or left dilapidated and wonder, “Wonder what that could be for the church?” Warehouse spaces could be food pantries, shopping areas could be start up businesses for job training centers, some areas could be reclaimed for the land for community parks/playgrounds/gardens, maybe some building/neighborhood could be renovated for some intentional living communities are just some of my thoughts on re-claiming space. Those are just dreaming ideas for me at this time.
However, with this dreaming I am super intrigued by Hope Church’s efforts to re-claim their neighborhood areas and create safe livable housing for people who might, for whatever reason, get stuck in squaller conditions.
For more than a decade, the 700-member church off John Young Parkway has been buying and rehabilitating Washington Shores buildings to revitalize the area.
“We’re not a church that solely exists within these four walls,” Wiggins said one recent morning in his office. “We are a church that is taking our faith to the community.”
Surely this isn’t without a headache or some troubled moments, but when is something meaningful completely stress free? What would it take for the church, general, seek out ways similar to this as a way to meat the needs of the people and be some vision of Kingdom? I would love to be a part of a church that does that.
Maybe in stead of taking hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars to make our sanctuaries cooler (in figurative sense, or the HVAC sense if you want) but take some portion of that to invest in community improvements or making sure those who are struggling can live safely and with dignity. That’d be a cool break of some cycles of poverty and self-service that I couldn’t imagine Jesus seeing any other way than a good thing.
It would take time, but home runs have be earned after some batting practice and a few foul balls, but you never get there unless you imagine you can do it and then actually go out and do it.
I was pretty impressed with this pastor who has started a ‘Drive In’ church. Wasn’t so much impressed that he’s doing a drive in church, that seems rather silly to me. I was impressed that he is choosing to do sermons outside in the Texas heat wave this summer. That is just insane.
Vans and trucks drove into the parking lot of Lovejoy High School to be part of “Sanctuary Under the Sky,” Rev. David Ray’s new drive-in church.
“The sound is transmitted over the car radio so they just tune into the frequency that it’s set to. They can hear, they’re encouraged to participate. Everything that the congregation is asked to do is printed in the bulletin,” said Ray.
Ray, pastor of Presbyterian Church of the Master, stands in the parking lot conducting the service as churchgoers watch through their dashboard windows.
What caught me by surprise with this story is that he was a Presbyterian pastor. Not the normal kind the norm of worship for a mainline minister. So as with any bored moment I went and looked up ‘drive in church‘ and come to realize, he doesn’t actually know how to look for others doing the same thing (claimed in article that he’s only one doing this that he’s aware of), because it seems other churches have driveinchurch.net websites. Turns out a Disciples of Christ church has been at this for almost 50 years. In their history this is their reasoning for a drive in church.
The purpose of these services was to reach a large number of people with the good news including tourists, the physically challenged and provide an opportunity for the whole family to worship together. The Drive-In Church is new and different, yet it is deeply spiritual and reverently worshipful. As our Pastor was quoted in The Washington Post in a recent article on our church. “We worship outdoors, by the sea as did Jesus.”
So has me wondering, is this like the first emergent / missional / emerging / post-modern church?
Or maybe, is the car such a comfort buffer that we prevent ourselves from ever actually being community because we never get in proximal distance to one another?
“Come on, Take the Money and Run. Woo, Woo!” (couldn’t resist a little Steve Miller Band in this posting)
In my methodist church they have stated that a lottery is in congruent with Christian practice.. or more exactly.
Gambling is a menace to society, deadly to the best interests of moral, social, economic, and spiritual life, and destructive of good government. As an act of faith and concern, Christians should abstain from gambling and should strive to minister to those victimized by the practice.
Where gambling has become addictive, the Church will encourage such individuals to receive therapeutic assistance so that the individual’s energies may be redirected into positive and constructive ends.
The Church should promote standards and personal lifestyles that would make unnecessary and undesirable the resort to commercial gambling—including public lotteries—as a recreation, as an escape, or as a means of producing public revenue or funds for support of charities or government.
From The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church – 2004. Copyright 2004 by The United Methodist Publishing House. Used by permission.
When I lived in Alabama the churches were in a uproar over a lottery trying to be pushed through the government. A governor was elected with the implementation of a lottery as a big platform. However, it got shot down pretty quickly (and I don’t think he won a second term). In Tennessee we had the same uprising, but a lottery passed through regardless. In both cases there was always this hypothetical. What if someone in your congregation won the lottery and gave the money to the church, do you take it?
Well, not so much a hypothetical question anymore..
As it turns out this church had an instant win card worth $80,000 dropped off in the offering plate. It was anonymous so the church folks say and they are not to bashful about accepting it.
“The money is going towards the church and we have to supply the food for the neighborhood, the clothing, everything costs and we give this stuff away free,” says Alfonzo Riggins.
Riggins has been attending cathedral of prayer church for the past 15 years, He also handles security for the pastor and first lady of the church.
He says he has already received criticisms from people in the community about the church accepting the money.
“God said a blessing is a blessing you know, no one at the church played the lottery so it had to be an outsider that came in and did this,” Riggins said.
News Leader 9 caught up with church members after Bible study. They had no idea about the huge donation their church had gotten but agreed that it was in fact a gift from above.
“Everything comes from God, everything is a blessing however we received it, and it’s a blessing I’m not telling anybody to go out and gamble but however God gave it to you then receives it as that,” Riggins said. “I haven’t found out yet and I’m not going to ask that question unless it’s given to me as a direct order to figure out where it came from.”
So what do you say? Anonymous gift to the church via gambling method a gift from God to be used or a deeper moral question that needs a more creative response?
I have been pondering this idea of “start with why” for my own ministries then it had me wondering. Does our church even know the ‘why’ of its existence? Sure there are some mission statements, but those are things that the church says it wants to be. Not really why it is there. Maybe I am thinking to hard on this, but companies who live to do their why have captured mass appeal. Maybe the church doesn’t need mass appeal.. The leaders of my faith expression sure seem to want ‘vital’ mass appeal.
I happen to be subscribed to a number of church email newsletters. Some because I helped set them up and have not removed myself from the list, some because in a weak moment I wanted to know how they communicated. Many times I am feeling pretty bored with the emails. They are always doing the same things and in the same way. I know what is in there before I even open up the email.
P90X is a popular workout program that you would have to be under a rock not to have heard of it. If you own a tv you must not have it turned on ever to not have seen one of their commercials. One of their cool marketing tricks or actual solid training technique (you decide there) is their design of training called “muscle confusion.” The idea is simple, do different stuff so that your muscles never get used to the work out and will burn more calories because they are never conditioned to do a certain set of exercises.
Well, the brain is a muscle, although different than your buttocks it is a muscle and gets trained. So I had this idea. What if churches did their email communications with the p90x model of muscle confusion in mind. If you send an email each week have a different type of presenting a message, different layout, and different writers. Once you set up a few layouts and themes you can repeat using them in some random pattern. So far, it has been a concept that apparently is foreign to the people I have suggested it to because it does not compute or seems like too much work.
Lack of variety in email marketing is a common dilemma for marketers. Businesses newer to email marketing or with fewer resources tend to gravitate first and only to promotional messaging, but there is plenty more you can and should communicate to your list.
They go on to list 1. email newsletter 2. personal & holiday greetings 3. follow ups 4. educational entertainment as emails to spice things up instead of a constant barrage of promotional emails.
So what could mixing it up p90x style look like for a church email program?
- Email Newsletter: You want to push all your information at people in the hopes that they are now informed so go ahead, get that over with.
- Ministry Story: Find some good ministry stories to share. A paragraph or two, not more than 500 words though. If you can’t find 500 words to share some cool story about the ministry happening in your church then you have worse problems than an email communication issue. You can switch it up from choir, to youth ministry, to missions, then to worship. Again if your ministry leaders cannot come up with 500 words to share a story about their ministry then they have more problems to be dealt with than email. This practice though is helping the people of your church have stories to tell about the church family they are a part of. So when someone asks them, “what does your church do?” they will actually have some stories to answer with.
- Images Only Reflection: Put out an email that is just photos of the congregation. Sure you can link those images to something else. Please no cheesy clipart or stock photography. Really nice cameras are owned by at least a few people in your church. Charge them with photographing the work of their church as part of their mission. People love to see good photos. People love to see good photos of themselves and the intrigue that they might be featured in an email. Open rates will be huge!!
- Challenging Devotion or Message: Have a message, again less than 500 words that gives a glimpse of the Kingdom of God and gives some actionable response/challenge to people. A get out and do kind of thing.
- Other email types to throw out there. Community Prayer email: Not your prayer chain, but a prayer you want everyone to pray for the month. Poetry devotion: plug in a single email a poem written by a congregation member. What is Out There: so often church emails just share the church things, share blog posts, news articles, that give glimpse to what others are doing
There you go. Gavin’s p90x Email marketing method. Give it a go and see what happens. Tell me I’m full of crap. Tell me it has revolutionized the culture of your church. Let me know it is a whole lot more fun than just blasting out the newsletter or bulletin in another form. If it doesn’t work in 90 days I’ll give you a full refund of the money you spent on this advice.
Oh, and if you want to use an enhanced email program, I suggest you do, then go with MailChimp for your free option. There are other pay options such as Aweber or Emma I’d suggest, Emma if you want someone to hold your hand & help design.